Mexican authorities are reportedly cracking down on migrant caravans from Guatemala and Honduras traveling through southern Mexico, and Monday night, Mexican immigration authorities arrested nearly 400 illegal immigrants near the town of Pijijiapan, not far from Mexico’s border with Guatemala.
The Associated Press reports that journalists, traveling alongside the caravan, witnessed hundreds of migrants, at the “tail end” of the 3,000 person group, being detained and arrested by Mexican immigration officials, “wrestling migrants into police vehicles for transport and presumably deportation.”
Raids continued throughout the day on Monday, with immigrants reporting they were being “hunted” by immigration official and targeted for deportation back to Central America.
This is the second wave of mass detentions. The first came last week near Mapastepec, after the Mexican government closed a visa office there and demanded the migrant caravans turn around and return home or face arrest and deportation.
President Donald Trump has been encouraging Mexican authorities to take a harder stand against illegal immigrant caravans, which have been snaking their way through Mexico to the United States’ southern border since last year, flooding Mexican border towns and overwhelming American border and immigration control. After threatening to close the border with Mexico to trade several weeks ago, Trump claimed his counterpart, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was promising to take the U.S.’s concerns seriously.
That seems to now be the case; Mexican officials say they’re cutting back dramatically on the number of visas awarded to prospective asylum seekers and claim to be deporting twice the number of illegal immigrants as this time last year. The AP reports that Mexico claims to have deported 11,800 migrants just in the month of April (though Mexico also says it has issued around 15,000 migrant visas since the start of 2019).
But the Mexican government says it’s not just responding to Trump — it’s responding to its own people, who are tired of hosting thousands of migrants waiting to declare asylum in the United States.
The United States Customs and Border Patrol is already having difficulty processing asylum seekers, and those who aren’t allowed in the United States pending adjudication on their claims are left to wait in Mexican border towns. Those towns are now overrun with members of migrant caravans, as are designated stopping towns along the way from the Guatemalan border to the United States border.
Those towns are similarly overwhelmed, and residents are far less supportive of the migrants now than they were a year ago, when the endless stream of asylum seekers began.
Mexico also says their crackdowns aren’t targeted at immigrants, per se, but at a criminal element that seems to be using the caravans as cover for human trafficking operations.
“We don’t want for them to just have free passage, not just out of legal concerns but for questions of safety,” Mexican President López Obrador told a press conference Tuesday, in response to an outcry from pro-immigrant groups over the mass detentions.
He also said that migrants who are detained in the immigration raids don’t necessarily have to return home. His Interior Secretary, Olga Sanchéz Cordero, was quick to note that migrants pulled from caravans will be offered two options: temporary work visas that allow them to remain in Mexico and eventually apply for Mexican citizenship, or a ride back to their nation of origin.